10-14-2016, 12:31 PM
Evangelical writer Eric Metaxas remarked on BreakPoint last week that if Americans took a theology exam, their only hope of passing would be if God graded on a curve. He’s right. In knowing both the content of the Bible and the doctrinal foundations of Christianity, we Americans aren’t just at the bottom of our class. We are, as Ross Douthat argues in his book, “Bad Religion,” a nation of heretics.A survey of 3,000 people conducted by LifeWay Research and commissioned by Ligonier Ministries found that although Americans still overwhelmingly identify as “Christian,” startling percentages of the nation embrace ancient errors condemned by all major Christian traditions. These are not minor points of doctrine, but core ideas that define Christianity itself. The really sad part? Even when we’re denying the divinity of Christ, we can’t keep our story straight. Americans talking about theology sound about as competent as country singers rapping.
We’re an Embarrassment to Heretics EverywhereSeven out of ten respondents in LifeWay’s survey affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity—that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Persons but one God, and six in ten agreed that Jesus is both human and divine. Their orthodoxy—and consistency—ended there. More than half went on to indicate that Jesus is “the first and greatest being created by God,” a heresy known as Arianism, which the Council of Nicaea condemned in 325 A.D.
Of course, most of these accidental blasphemers aren’t preparing to revise the resulting Nicene Creed and preach a creaturely Christ. Rather, bizarre contradictions like this illustrate how many Americans don’t understand or even care what the Trinity means (although they say they believe in it, likely out of habits learned growing up in church).
The responses to other questions were no less heterodox or headache-inducing. Seventy percent of participants—who ranged across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds—agreed there’s only one true God. Yet sixty-four percent also thought this God accepts the worship of all religions, including those that believe in many gods.
Two-thirds admitted that everyone sins a little bit, but still insisted that most people are good by nature, which directly contradicts scripture (See “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”). Over half said it’s fair for God to exercise his wrath against sin, but seemed to waffle about which sins deserved wrath (not theirs!). Seventy-four percent said the “smallest sins” don’t warrant eternal damnation, in contrast to Jesus’ brother, who when writing at the Holy Spirit’s inspiration taught that even one infraction of God’s law is enough to sink someone. But really, what did he know?
A full 60 percent agreed that “everyone eventually goes to heaven,” but half of those surveyed also checked the box saying that “only those who believe in Jesus will be saved.” So either these folks are saying everyone will eventually believe in Jesus, or they hired a monkey to take the survey for them.
Evangelicals Didn’t Even Study for This TestIt’s one thing for Americans in general to lack basic theological knowledge. After all, many of the 75 percent of the country who call themselves Christians don’t take their faith that seriously, and the rest are either members of other religions, or have no religion. But what about those who wear their Christianity on their sleeve? Surely such a group—evangelicals, for instance—would perform much better.
That’s what the folks at LifeWay thought, too. In a similar project conducted two years ago, researchers asked participants to self-identify, resulting in an inflated number of professing “evangelicals. Not surprisingly, this group Christmas-treed the survey, espousing all kinds of unorthodox...